Located in the heart of Chanakyapuri’s VVIP area, behind Jesus and Mary College, is The Treat – a food joint, which acts as a tribute to the late Bollywood superstar Rajesh Khanna. Its identity lies in its appearance. It looks like a food van, but is not one. Besides, it is completely covered with pictures of Khanna and the actor’s popular songs are played all day long.
Started in 1997,The Treatwas the brainchild of Khanna himself. Surrounded by embassies, it is swarmed by not just the superstar’s fans but by nocturnal wanderers, who would want to gorge on scrumptious bites of Indian style Chinese street food in the wee hours.
Owner Vipin Oberoi calls himself Rajesh Khanna’s “biggest fan” and considers the late actor as nothing less than a Godfather figure.
He became a fan of Kaka’s (as Khanna was affectionately called) work after watching Aradhana and wanted to meet him.
“Log bachpanmein doctor, engineer bannachahtehai, par meri ek hi khwahishthike main ek baar Rajesh Khanna ji se milu (Usually children dream of becoming doctors or engineers, but I had only one aspiration and that was to meet Rajesh Khanna,” says Oberoi.
His dream turned into a reality when Rajesh Khanna was signed by his brother-in-law Umesh Mehra and his father FC Mehra, a famous filmmaker, for the movie Ashanti in 1981.
“I used to keep requesting FC Mehra to sign Rajesh Khanna in his films, but he always asked me to wait. Finally, it was with Ashanti that I felt closer to my dream [of meeting him],” he says.
The two (Rajesh Khanna and Oberoi) met on the sets of the movie and the rest is history.
“There were so many actors on the set. Shabana Azmi, Mithun, Parveen Babi, but all I cared for was Rajesh Khanna. I used to visit the set everyday only to see Rajesh Khanna and I never spoke to anyone else there, but him,” he recalls.
While initially the two were pally, they grew closer and eventually became each other’s “support system” during the 90s when Khanna was contesting for the Lok Sabha elections in Delhi.
“He was contesting from the New Delhi seat on a Congress ticket in the ’91 Lok Sabha elections and was here for campaigning. One day, during one of the rallies, his car caught on fire and my car was in the convoy. I immediately moved ahead and asked him to sit in my car. Since then, I was always by his side,” Oberoi recalls, while Yeh jo mohabbat hai plays in the background.
Khanna had lost the election in 1991 by a narrow margin of 1589 votes, after which he stood on the ground that he had been cheated of a win. In 1992, a by-election was called after the resignation of the incumbent Member of Parliament LK Advani. Khanna contested the seat again, won the by-election by defeating fellow actor Shatrughan Sinha by 25,000 votes. Oberoi got so involved in helping the legendary actor win the election that he moved in with him to help him with the campaign.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Oberoi lost his parents when he was a child and was brought up by his relatives.
“I used to do odd jobs here and there. Sometimes in factories and at other times I gave tuition to people to earn money,” says Oberoi, who later owned three shoe factories, which were shut down on Khanna’s advice.
“He advised me to open a food outlet and suggested me to cover it with his pictures so that people keep coming even after he is long gone. I started the outlet suggestedby him at Janpath, which was also the first ever celebrity-themed food van in India. Then he helped us get permission from the NDMC to move the van here,” he says.
Today, the food joint reflects Rajesh Khanna’s life in phases. Him campaigning, playing the dhol, feeding people, greeting fans, sitting with Oberoi’s daughters in his lap, and so on. It also has a life-size mannequin of Rajesh Khanna and laminated stills of his iconic characters from Anand and Aradhana.
“Rajesh Khanna visited this place at least 800-900 times and ate only from here whenever he was in Delhi. There used to be times when Rajesh Khanna himself used to cook, serve and select the menu,” he says. One can, in fact, sit all day at The Treat and hear all the tales of the great actor fromthe owner.
The place is a vibe. The tiny kitchen in the van overlooks the pavement — laid with artificial grass — where seating arrangements have been made. A projector is fitted on the top of the van to play the videos of the legend. A heavy dose of Rajesh Khanna’s iconic songs such as Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haye, O mere dilke chain, Bheegi Bheegi raaton mein are just an icing on the cake.
Every year on Kaka’s birth and death anniversary, the owner has made it a ritual to serve free food to anyone who visits his eatery. Besides, he does charity on the legendary actor’s name daily.
“With his blessings, I am a content man today. I just have this one business, but have got huge returns from this, along with love from people. Therefore, whatever I do, it is in his name,” Oberoi says.
The bright and flashy eatery is known for its one-of-a-kind non-fried mutton koftas.
“It was my introduction to the menu. We make the balls and place them on a perforated utensil, which is then put on top of boiling water.We seal it until the koftas come out soft and succulent. Twenty-five out of the total 40 items were Rajesh Khanna’s idea,” adds Oberoi.
For Oberoi, Rajesh Khanna is an advisor, a philosopher, and a friend “who is always walking by his side”.
“Rajesh Khanna was a gem of a person. Hameshunka pair zameen pe tha (He was always humble and grounded). He always had time for his fans, personally talked to people, was open to feedback and constantly tried to improve,” he says.
Oberoi is strict with his protocols of The Treat. No compromise on quality of the food to the extent that he foregoes the charge if a customer doesn’t like the taste. No alcohol is permitted in the premises. And it will always play Rajesh Khanna’s songs.
“Once it so happened, Rajesh Khanna visited the van with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and asked me to play the latter’s music. I refused. This food van will always play Rajesh Khanna’s music.”
Visitors there looked largely satisfied. While many left taking Oberoi’s blessings, others exchanged banters soon after arrival.
“This place is very dear to me and my husband. Before our marriage, we used to come here every weekend for the food. The aloo chaat and crispy soya chaap are my favourite. Even the kofta is a chef’s kiss. I have also introduced my sister to this place and today I brought my four-year-old boy here. I told my husband,‘Let’s go to uncle’s joint for dinner’,” says Mohini, a customer.
While the non-vegetarian items such as the chilli chicken dry, fish manchurian, koftas reign the menu, the vegetarian items are also in demand.
According to Oberoi, biryani and the mutton kofta are Rajesh Khanna’s favourite items. “He loved my food so much that even during his final days, I took early morning flight to Mumbai to deliver food to him at ‘Aashirwad’ (Rajesh Khanna’s residence). The saddest part is how he never let anyone understand that he was slowly dying of such a serious disease (cancer),” he rues.
Oberoi too had a stint in films. He was the child actor who played the role of young Raaj Kumar in the famous movie, Waqt.
While the outlet is close to the colleges ofsouth campus, the prices may not be too student-friendly. However, it offers a splendid experience with delicious food and dollops of Rajesh Khanna. It is also frequented by film stars like Akshay Kumar, Tamanna Bhatia, Shatrughan Sinha, among others. Plus, it is open till 5am.